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Kentucky by Heart: The wisdom found in the words and sayings of ‘old-timers’ can last a lifetime

By Steve Flairty
KyForward columnist

If you spend considerable time around any old-timer (I’ll let you figure out how I define “old-timer”) you’re likely to hear them talk about old sayings and terms they used to hear a lot while growing up… along with telling who the person was who most often said such memorable things. Sometimes they’re shared with a grin or even a giggle, sometimes as points of wisdom and applicable to the present situation.

Steve’s parents, Alma and Eugene Flairty (Photo provided)

So having said that, I guess me sharing what I heard as a rural youth bears witness that I, too, must be an old-timer.

Mom used to react to an entertainer she didn’t like with this comment: “I wouldn’t walk across the street to see him/her.” Hard to believe she would say that about The King! She just wasn’t an Elvis fan, but Dad often mentioned that he liked the original hipster’s gospel singing best. A lazy person was one who “never hurt him/herself.” But Mom could be positive, too. Someone she considered kind-hearted was often characterized as “a good turn.” Not sure where “turn” used that way developed, but she seemed comfortable using it.

Safety was also emphasized by my mother. Handling scissors? “Don’t run with them and be sure to hold them with the sharp end down.” She also cautioned me to be careful with my BB gun, saying: “Don’t put your eye out,” and responding to a bad personal habit I had, nail-biting: “Get those fingers out of your mouth!”

When Dad was catching up with an assortment of small jobs, he referred to it as “piddling.” A trip for him to the restroom was termed “seeing a man about a horse.” He greeted me after a day at school by saying: “Did you learn anything today?”

I always knew if I didn’t talk much to Grandma Flairty, she’d say: “What’s the matter…cat got your tongue?”

After we lifted the last hay bale off the wagon and stacked in the barn, a neighbor hay farmer I worked for always declared: “That’s the one we should have gotten first.” I also grinned when he responded to his own noisy passing of gas by saying: “Whoops…stepped on a green frog.”

Around Grant’s Lick and Claryville, locals had their own names for certain critters that one might not find in a textbook. A chipmunk was a “ground squirrel;” a skunk was a “polecat,” and we dug up “fishing worms,” not earthworms.

I read about box turtles in school, but around our community, they were called “land tarpins (terrapins).” We never saw a firefly…they were always “lightnin’ bugs.” And whoever heard of a “woodchuck”? We knew them as groundhogs and nothing else.

More than one person told me to eat my carrots because “they help you see better.” Come to think about it, I’ve never seen a rabbit wearing glasses. Have you? Maybe there’s something to it.

Words spoken often to a child often last a lifetime, don’t they?

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Upbeat news these days is that Kentucky seems to be taking a huge role in the production of industrial hemp, a crop that was an important part of our history. Many believe the economic boost for the state will be significant, and that’s like manna from heaven.

One place caught up in the spirit is Cynthiana, in Harrison County, about 25 minutes from Lexington. My wife, Suzanne, attended their “Kentucky Hemp Days” educational program as part of her job-related activities this past week. She came home pumped up about it, for sure.

As an employment counselor, she sees “lots of possibilities,” with industrial hemp and the growing force of interested people behind it. “For the rural areas of central Kentucky, I see it as a godsend for job seekers, both for those who like to work out in the fields and also in manufacturing and retail,” Suzanne said.

On Saturday, a full schedule of activities was in motion. There were vendors showcasing their hemp products, speakers (including Joe Bilby, General Counsel for the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, and live music. For those in the community, their effort on that day was certainly spelled P-R-O-A-C-T-I-V-E.

For more information, email cynthianatourism@gmail.com.

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Steve Flairty is a teacher, public speaker and an author of six books: a biography of Kentucky Afield host Tim Farmer and five in the Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes series, including a kids’ version. Steve’s “Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes #4,” was released in 2015. Steve is a senior correspondent for Kentucky Monthly, a weekly KyForward and NKyTribune columnist and a member of the Kentucky Humanities Council Speakers Bureau. Contact him at sflairty2001@yahoo.com or visit his Facebook page, “Kentucky in Common: Word Sketches in Tribute.” (Steve’s photo by Connie McDonald)

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